Or­ganic sketch­ing Alexis Rock­man

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This sum­mer, Alexis Rock­man rented a small house in the south of France to fo­cus on New Mex­ico Field Draw­ings (2017). Along with two of his very large oil paint­ings, the 76 draw­ings are fea­tured in

Fu­ture Shock at SITE Santa Fe. They’re the lat­est in a se­ries he has done in Tas­ma­nia, Mada­gas­car, South Africa, and on Long Is­land, us­ing lo­cal or­ganic ma­te­ri­als and acrylic poly­mer on pa­per. “As much as I’m the au­thor of all th­ese things, I re­ally want the cul­ture of place and the his­tory of the place to per­me­ate what I’ve been work­ing on,” he said. “There are a lot of tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als that I used as ve­hi­cles for the draw­ings for Santa Fe, like red clay and green clay and micaceous clay. I was sort of walked through the tra­di­tions and then did my own ver­sions, not nec­es­sar­ily to con­tinue a tra­di­tion, be­cause I’m not Na­tive Amer­i­can — I’m not part of that cul­ture — but I think it’s in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant to have some knowl­edge.

“I’m by no means an ex­pert in the ecol­ogy of any of th­ese places, but I’ve been in my stu­dio for over 30 years in Man­hat­tan, and it’s a great way to get out of this sort of mad sci­en­tist lab­o­ra­tory.”

Un­like his paint­ings — 2011’s Bat­tle Royale and 2013’s Bronx Zoo are in the SITE show — that por­tray scores of re­al­is­ti­cally ren­dered an­i­mals and plants in dense, apoc­a­lyp­tic set­tings, his draw­ings are sketch­like, even breezy. “It is acrylic poly­mer, which is just a ve­hi­cle. Then there’s ma­te­rial that is un­wieldy, un­pre­dictable, un­work­able, or ef­fort­less. It de­pends on what it is. You never know what’s go­ing to hap­pen with th­ese things, be­cause they’re so alchemaic. For in­stance, there are some things I did for Santa Fe, some very strange things with the ma­te­ri­als that I’d never seen be­fore and quite liked, but it be­came a lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare to get them to Santa Fe. They cracked and did some in­ter­est­ing, un­pre­dictable things that seemed tem­po­rary and su­per­fi­cially un­sta­ble. They sta­bi­lized af­ter they dried, but they went through a strange process.”

SITE ar­ranged for Rock­man to meet with an ar­ray of peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions dur­ing a week he spent in New Mex­ico. One was Eric Blin­man, di­rec­tor of the New Mex­ico Of­fice of Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies. “He sort of walked me through the in­ter­face be­tween Na­tive Amer­i­can cul­ture and the­ol­ogy. He also said they dis­cov­ered a sub­species of tiger sala­man­der in the drain of the [Cen­ter for New Mex­ico Ar­chae­ol­ogy], so I did a draw­ing of that.” Deb­o­rah Finch, a pro­gram man­ager and su­per­vi­sory bi­ol­o­gist at the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture For­est Ser­vice in Al­bu­querque, sent him a box of ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing a cot­ton­wood branch that he drew. Santa Clara artist El­iza Naranjo Morse took him to Abiquiú. “We col­lected red clay to­gether,” she said. “I gave him green clay from Min­nesota and micaceous clay that my mom [Nora Naranjo Morse] gave me.”

Rock­man also met with Mark Wat­son, a ter­res­trial habi­tat spe­cial­ist with the New Mex­ico De­part­ment of Game and Fish. “He gave me a dream list of what he would like to see me make draw­ings of,” Rock­man said, “and I did the lesser prairie chicken be­cause of him, and a species of leop­ard frog and the White Sands pup­fish.” En­to­mol­o­gist John Formby took him to the Je­mez Moun­tains, home of the threat­ened Je­mez Moun­tains sala­man­der. Thomas An­to­nio, a botanist at the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts, gave him some blue corn. “He told me about the cochineal in­sect, and I made a draw­ing of one of those beees us­ing just ground-up in­sect. Then I went to the [Santa Fe of­fice of the] In­sti­tute of Ap­plied Ecol­ogy, and I asked ques­tions about what were the most en­dan­gered things t ey were work­ing with and some of the nightari thi s.” Some of kman’s sub­jects are ex­tinct or threat­ened, and others have no in­ten­tion of go­ing that way — for ex­am­ple, the op­po­sum, the kan­ga­roo, and the mos­quito. “The im­pli­ca­tions of that are that the ecol­ogy of the present and the fu­ture are dy­namic, to say the least. Some things will do ex­tremely well and others have no fu­ture what­so­ever, and some are al­ready gone. It’s re­ally about place and about in­ti­macy,” he said. The ba­sic pes­simism from his long im­mer­sion in the var­i­ous plights of na­ture that re­sult from a hu­man-in­flu­enced world has not changed. “I think it’s bleaker. At least it was sort of go­ing in the right di­rec­tion and was a con­tin­u­a­tion of the early-’70s ideas about con­ser­va­tion. Now, all bets are off. We’re deal­ing with a bunch of clowns that don’t know any­thing, or are just com­pletely cor­rupt and psy­chotic.” — Paul Wei­de­man

THERE ARE A LOT OF TRA­DI­TIONAL MA­TE­RI­ALS THAT I USED AS VE­HI­CLES FOR THE DRAW­INGS, LIKE RED CLAY AND GREEN CLAY AND MICACEOUS CLAY. I WAS SORT OF WALKED THROUGH THE TRA­DI­TIONS AND THEN DID MY OWN VER­SIONS. — ALEXIS ROCK­MAN

on­wood, soil from Espa ola, on­wood leaves and acrylic mer on pa­per; above, P Swal­low­tail, soil from Je z oun­tains and acrylic p er on pa­per; both im­ages cour ITE Santa Fe and Sper­one stwa­ter Gallery, ew Yor

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